POLITICS
03/06/2019 22:01 EST | Updated 03/07/2019 00:05 EST

7 Noteworthy Details About The Ever-Evolving SNC-Lavalin Controversy

Highlights from the latest testimonies heard at committee.

Justin Tang/CP
Left to right: The prime minister's former principal secretary Gerald Butts, deputy justice minister and attorney general Nathalie Drouin, and Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick appear at a Commons committee on March 6, 2019.

OTTAWA — New details emerged Wednesday about the SNC-Lavalin corruption case that has led to the resignations of two high-profile ministers from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet.

The House of Commons justice committee heard from Gerald Butts, the prime minister's former principal secretary, as well as clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick.

Nathalie Drouin, deputy justice minister and deputy attorney general, also testified.

Here are some of the key highlights:

1. There was some clarity on the 'new evidence' that fueled tensions

Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould told the justice committee last week that she was firm in her decision to not offer SNC-Lavalin a remediation deal to avoid criminal prosecution.

"I did not need external legal counsel. I did not need people in the Prime Minister's Office continuing to suggest that I needed external legal counsel," she said at the time. "That's inappropriate."

The Quebec-based construction and engineering giant is facing criminal prosecution related to bribery and corruption charges. Remediation — a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) — lets companies pay a financial penalty without registering a conviction. A conviction, on the other hand, carries a risk of a 10-year ban from obtaining federal contracts.

According to Butts, the attorney general is "obligated to bring fresh eyes to new evidence."

Watch: Liberal, Tory, NDP MPs react to Gerald Butts testimony

Butts said the director of public prosecutions (DPP), the person charged with deciding whether or not to prosecute SNC-Lavalin, was presented with "new evidence" by the company in late September. He made several references to "new evidence" but did not offer further details.

The attorney general can overrule decisions made by the director of public prosecutions, but if they decide to do so, a notice of the intervention must be published in the Canada Gazette, the official newspaper of the federal government.

Butts said DPP made a "fresh decision" on Oct. 9, 2018 not to pursue a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin.

Justin Tang/CP
Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, appears before the Commons justice committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 6, 2019.

Details were still thin until Wernick made his second appearance before the justice committee on the matter. The country's top civil servant suggested a dive in share price was one of several pieces of "new evidence" that merited the former attorney general's considering a new "risk calculus."

"The new facts that emerged, which I believe were public interest considerations, were the tanking of the share price of the company, making it vulnerable to takeovers," Wernick said. He added that there was also "communications from the new premier of Quebec and the government of Quebec, which changed the risk calculus around a conviction or not conviction of the company."

Butts, however, was unable to cite a specific study to support the opinion that a criminal conviction for SNC-Lavalin would jeopardize more than 9,000 jobs.

"They have a very secure financial situation with gross revenues of $10 billion," said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

2. The Trans Mountain pipeline came up

The reference came somewhat out of the blue when Butts noted the Federal Court of Appeal's recent decision to nullify project permits was top-of-mind. One of the reasons was because of inadequate consultation with Indigenous peoples.

He tied it to the possibility of a deferred prosecution agreement being used for the first time in Canada in the SNC-Lavalin case. The measure was tacked onto an omnibus budget bill last year.

Jonathan Hayward/CP
An aerial view of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain marine terminal in Burnaby, B.C. on May 29, 2018.

Wilson-Raybould said last week that because her decision was firm on the matter, "having conversations about hiring external legal counsels in that environment is entirely inappropriate."

Butts said, however, that the attorney general was free to accept or reject the offer of getting external advice on SNC-Lavalin.

"That was the substance of the discussions that the PMO had with the attorney general and the attorney general's office," he said. "It was the first time the law was ever being used, and we just wanted to make sure that every due consideration was given to both options."

3. Wilson-Raybould's comment about op-eds was 'out of context': Butts

The comment came up during the former attorney general's testimony last week when Wilson-Raybould read a text message from Jessica Prince, her former chief of staff.

Prince was texting her boss about a meeting she had with the prime minister's chief of staff, Katie Telford, on the subject of getting an "ex Supreme Court of Canada judge" to provide some legal advice.

"[Katie] was like, 'If Jody is nervous, we would of course line up all kinds of people to write op-eds saying that what she is doing is proper,'" read Wilson-Raybould.

Butts divulged that the third-party legal expert would have been former Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin.

The op-eds comment was swiftly panned by several newspaper editors and publishers.

Butts said the comment was taken "out of context."

He said: "It's a common practice that's probably been around as long as there have been op-eds, that whatever position the government is taking or an opposition party is taking, they seek out supporters in the free press."

4. Butts said Wilson-Raybould turned down Indigenous services job

The committee was given some rare insight into the decision-making process behind the now-infamous January cabinet shuffle that saw Wilson-Raybould moved to veterans affairs.

Butts said former Treasury Board president Scott Brison's departure from cabinet put the Prime Minister's Office in a "tough spot." The prime minister didn't want to move Jane Philpott, then Indigenous services minster, but she was deemed the best-qualified person, considering her position as Treasury Board vice-chair.

The prime minister called Wilson-Raybould to offer her Indigenous services, Butts said. "Minister Wilson-Raybould said that she was "a little bit shocked" because MOJAG (minister of justice and attorney general) was 'her dream job.'"

Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Liberal MPs Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott take part in a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2019.

Wilson-Raybould turned down the cabinet portfolio, which Butts said surprised him. "I had never seen anyone do it before, in 13 shuffles, over many years," he said.

The former attorney general presented her reasons why she could not accept it, he said. "She said she could not do it for the reason that she had spent her life opposed to the Indian Act, and couldn't be in charge of programs administered under its authority."

Butts then made a statement of contrition, saying, "I should have known that, and had we had more time to think of the cabinet shuffle, I probably would have realized it."

5. Deputy AG said Wilson-Raybould's office asked her to hold a report advising the Privy Council Office about the impacts of a DPA

Nathalie Drouin, deputy justice minister and deputy attorney general, revealed that the Privy Council Office asked her department to prepare an opinion on the potential impacts of a criminal conviction for SNC-Lavalin.

"My department developed the draft legal advice. It was not provided to the PCO at the request of the minister's office," Drouin said in her opening statement.

6. Liberals flex their majority to vote down bid to call back Wilson-Raybould

This has happened before.

In mid-February, a motion was tabled in justice committee to call Wilson-Raybould to be a witness in its study of the SNC-Lavalin controversy. There are nine voting members on the committee. Five Liberals voted against it.

Days later, the committee met again and decided behind closed doors to invite the former attorney general to testify. She delivered her testimony on Feb. 28.

The justice committee is scheduled to meet in camera on March 19 to decide who the next witness will be.

It's also the day the Liberal government is set to table its election-year budget.

7. Wilson-Raybould says she's open to testifying again

The Vancouver Granville MP issued a statement Wednesday afternoon stating her willingness to appear before the justice committee again if she's invited back.

She raised the issue of the Order in Council that waived cabinet confidentiality and solicitor-client privilege only for her time as attorney general, not after the Jan. 14 cabinet shuffle.

"I will note, as I indicated at the time, my statement to the committee was not a complete account but only a detailed summary," she said.

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